Friday 15 February 2019

Educating for Depth

The word education is derived from two distinct Latin constructs:

  • educare: is to impose from without. Schools across the world impose and regulate (eg NAPLAN) the various forms of knowledge and conventions that are ordained by educational authorities and governments in their respective jurisdictions
  • educere: is to lead out from within. This remains a great challenge for schools that wish to cultivate the inner essence of students’ lives, to go beyond the superficial, beyond content and beyond the ephemeral

Last Friday evening, in the aftermath of the Laureate Assembly and out of the sightline of most, a group of graduates gathered in Cova Cottage to share their educational journey at the College. These were the boys whose works have been featured in the Kircher Collection, which is a compendium of the finest work of the graduates of 2018 across a range of disciplines: Art, Music, History, Drama and Literature. Throughout Jesuit history, these fields of pursuit have featured strongly and continue to attract boys to the very essence of the study for the way it resonates with their inner being. The quality of the works in each of the fields was truly exceptional, but perhaps more important to each and every work is the heuristic process that was entered into and the self-discovery that occurred along the way. Put so prosaically by Sean Gong, one of the published authors in the Collection:

What we see around us… is more than just exceptional work, more than elegant strokes of the brush, entrancing visuals captured, riveting melodies composed, captivating stories performed or eloquent words written. These are messages from the deepest regions of our subconscious… where we whisper our deepest secrets, fears and desires – and then gift to others for them to unlock. And so we ask: where does my soul fit into this? This became my personal pursuit – understanding myself, and then imprinting myself into every single frame of my work. What I learned most about was myself. I am a pragmatist, secretly passionate, sceptical and intellectually rebellious …

In a similar vein, Dominic Ephraums’ artistic work Know Thyself prompted its own process of discernment:

Without moments of internal reflection we fail to know ourselves, we become a mere vessel; disseminators of others’ ideas… The black background [of my work] serves as a void, a black hole from where one emerges into the light of self-awareness.

At the high end, Jesuit learning (educere) enables the subject matter to be appropriated, synthesised and insinuated into the very fabric of the self. For the boys new to the College this will take some time, but for those who embrace the very marrow of their learning, there is much self-discovery ahead.

The spirit of Jesuit education is profoundly experienced in, and through, service. Over the weeks ahead each and every boy will make dedicated provision for their service program, be that in and around the precincts of Sydney in the junior years, more expansively through the Year 10 program in Term 2, or, for many of the senior boys, through engagement with the immersion program across South East Asia later in the year. Implicit to an education for service is a recognition of the need to embrace the other – the marginalised and the disadvantaged, wherever they may be found. And the truth is that there is enormous adversity faced by many in the local community: the disabled, the elderly, the homeless and the disaffected. Nationally, institutional racism faced by First Nations communities across the different states and regions of Australia remains a significant challenge, one that is the object of much attention in Year 10 with service immersions to Bathurst Island, Port Keat, Borroloola and Alice Springs. The crushing cycle of poverty that afflicts countless millions throughout the world is a focus that absorbs the attention of many boys in Year 11 as they begin their preparation for immersions that will take them to shores and the hinterland of Asia later in the year. This is the education of the heart, of life’s lessons that transact daily, but almost always out of the sightline of the textbooks and graphics calculators amid the regimen of the classroom.

And, the Jesuit educational lens is an inclusive and expansive one. While it taps into the personal experience that is elicited from the deeper questions, it is also holistic. Last weekend I walked the sultry heat of the grounds as the summer co-curricular program went into swing. For nearly 250 boys who are new to the College, this was their debut in the blue and white. Activity abounded on the courts and the ovals, in the pool and on the river. Out at Collaroy during the week, the boys in Year 5 participated in a wide raft of activities as part of their Orientation Camp – developing team work, communication skills, fitness and community building, in addition to the cultivation of attitudes and character which will hold them in good stead over the years ahead. The active and integrated educational program in Jesuit schools goes beyond the immediacy of the classroom, involving contingent learning time and place.

Educating for depth is a priority for those who walk through the front gate of the College and for all who embrace the charism of St Ignatius. It is demanding – necessarily so, for to tap into the inner essence of one’s being and to do so with a call to action through service, is not always visible and beyond the measurable. But it is the heartland of endeavour in a Jesuit school, one endowed theologically and practically from those who have come before, and one which will be perpetuated by those who – like our illustrious contributors to the 2018 Kircher Collection, will act as beacons of preservation and custodianship into the future.

Dr Paul Hine